‘Poison’ on the streets

The World Health Organisation’s recent statistics that 91 million people fall ill on the African continent due to food-borne disease is alarming. Locally, many regulatory agencies and associations are creating awareness to fight the scourge, Jane Chijioke writes. 

It was a long day for Esther Nwachukwu at work, as she returned home at about 7:15pm, farmished. For her, going into the kitchen to get a meal ready was a luxury; hence, she dashed off to a nearby local eatery, “bukka”, at Mafoluku, Lagos Mainland to get food.

On getting there, she was appalled by the poor hygiene exhibited by the food seller who didn’t care to wash her hands properly after cleaning up her child’s buttock who had just finished defecating, before serving her customers with  food.

Disgusted, Nwachukwu queried the food vendor, urging her to be hygiene conscious when dispensing food to her customers.

Rather than heeding  the advice, the food vendor replied in the defensive, walking the complainant out of her shop, with a warning not to patronise her again so as not to further poison the minds of her customers.

Food as a necessity of man has been a major health risk to humanity. Along the streets, various kinds of foods are sold on daily basis, leaving the consumers at the mercy of the food vendors, most of the street foods are prepared and sold in dirty environments, open to environmental contaminants, improper handling of the food and void of self hygiene of the seller.

From the various streets  food visited, it was observed that most vendors are ignorant of the health implication  of their reluctance to comply with safety food measures are, as they are just out to make profit.

A road side vendor at Oshodi who sells fried yam, chicken and turkey were neither concerned about safety of neither his consumers nor himself.

“Yam doesn’t have much dirt. So I just rinse it small and pack all the quantity I will sell for that day into a sack bag from home. So here (his shop) I just fry it and place it on my tray for customers to buy.  Sometimes, I don’t even have the time to take my bath before going to shop” he said.

Asked if he could employ a safety method to prevent dust, flies and defer his customers from dipping their hands into the food, he said “I can’t use a show glass; it will hinder my customers from accessing their choice of what they want to buy”

A few distance away from his shop, is a bukka that operates in the evening. With a sizable space she is entitled to, the seller has no shade over her head as she places her goods on a bench. Her big pot of stew garnished with various kind of meat is always open to the sight of passersby and her customers who flock her shop, standing at close range to the pot to order their choice.

According to World Health Organisation, 91 million people fall ill in Africa due to food borne illnesses. 137,000 people die in Africa because of unhealthy and contaminated food, with Diarrheal disease responsible for 70 percent of the disease burden, while chemical contaminants like Dioxin, Cyanide and Aflatoxins cause 25percent of the deaths from contaminated foods.

Food borne disease is not peculiar to the streets but also eateries and homes. To this end, the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSC) recently held a sensitisation programme in partnership with Restaurant and Food Services Proprietors Association of Nigeria (REFSPAN).

The Director-General of LSC, Hakeem Olaogun Dickson, stressed the need for food operators to be equipped with adequate information on proper handling of foods, adequate temperature needed in preserving and storing foods, food hygiene and control of hazards in workplaces.

“We are doing this safety programme to ensure everybody is carried along even those selling food on the streets. Safety should be incorporated at every processes of food making”.

Also the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST) Lagos Chapter has begun a safety food campaign for street food vendors.

Its Chairman, Mr Sunday Bamgbose said the programme titled “Street food safety” explained that there was urgent need to protect consumers as food is a must need for man. He said it was piloted in seven local governments in Lagos with the aim of scaling it up in the state. Impressed with the programme, he added the national body has adopted it and would soon be carried out in every part of the country.

A  Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) auditor, Mr Olusegun Ogolo, said the long term effect of food borne disease result in cancer, kidney or liver failure, paralysis and brain and neural disorders.

Noting that food hazard could arise from chemical, biological and physical contaminants, he said the HACCP which is a prerequisite for food sellers present a holistic approach to food safety, adding that training and capacity building can help reduce the scourge of food borne diseases.

Likewise, a food practitioner, Mrs Folawe Adewakun, identified some of the organisms found in foods, warned that “There is what we call danger zone temperature. You are supposed to eat your food hot. Any time you eat cold food, you are eating Bacillus Cerus.  You are only meant to re-eat food once. If you re-eat food after once, you are having food poison”.

The President of REFSPAN, Lady Kehinde Kamson   remarked that the association has developed to incorporate more practitioners in the food service chain even canteens and bukkas who are internally regulated by the association and have REFSPAN mark of quality. The idea is to have a broader spectrum for regulation and for efficiency. To this end, food borne diseases would be controlled, she summarised.

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